04 NYOCMigrations
National Youth Orchestra of Canada; Jonathan Darlington
Independent NYOC2018CD (nyoc.org)

Richard Strauss commented at least once on how unusually polyphonic (many-voiced) his musical brain was. Indeed, in preparing Strauss’ extraordinary work Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life) the 2018 National Youth Orchestra of Canada’s nearly 100 advanced musical brains have been suitably challenged! Expertly conducted by Jonathan Darlington, the tone poem’s long-range progression through myriad orchestral details is engrossing. Part way through the third of the composition’s six sections I realized that the performers were on a heroic path of their own with this confident performance. So, kudos to last summer’s conductor, faculty and young instrumentalists who brought this excellent recording, plus an ensuing performance tour of Germany and Scotland, to fruition.

Four works by accomplished Canadian composers follow on the disc. Evoking the natural world, Moontides by the well-recognized John Estacio is about to be connected to a forthcoming film about lunar tides. From the beginning, sweeping and brilliant orchestral colours and textures create a mysterious mood within the tonal, harmonic framework. Nature also is suggested in River Memory, a 2018 NYOC commission from emerging composer Alison Yun-Fei Jiang that is likewise imaginatively orchestrated with metamorphoses of timbre and expert percussion scoring. Here the pitch basis includes long pedal notes and intervallic patterns rather than chords. The NYOC program traditionally includes choral singing; brief and effective a cappella choruses Lead Us Home (by Matthew Emery) and Terre-Neuve (by Marie-Claire Saindon) round off this remarkable disc.

01 ClarkeEnglish cellist Natalie Clein and Norwegian pianist Christian Ihle Hadland are quite superb on a new CD of Sonatas by Rebecca Clarke and Frank Bridge (Hyperion CDA68253; hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_CDA68253).

Clarke’s Viola Sonata – here in the alternate cello version – is a sweeping, passionate work completed in 1919, and seems to benefit from the added depth the cello brings. And what inspired playing it draws from Clein! Bridge’s two-movement Cello Sonata in D Minor is also from the Great War period. Begun in 1913, it was finished in 1917, the second movement reflecting the darker times and the composer’s deep dismay at the course of world events. Three brief pre-war pieces precede the sonata: the Serenade (1903); Spring Song (1912); and the Scherzo (1901-03) that was rediscovered in 1970.

Besides the obvious English connection there is another link with Ralph Vaughan Williams here, his Six Studies in English Folk Song having been written in 1926 for cellist May Mukle, Rebecca Clarke’s longtime chamber music partner. They provide a lovely end to an outstanding disc.

02 Hopcker BrahmsThe German violinist Sabrina-Vivian Höpcker is the brilliant soloist in Brahms Hungarian Dances, a recital of all 21 pieces originally written for piano four hands and heard here in the arrangements by Joseph Joachim; Fabio Bidini is a perfect collaborator (Delos DE 3558; delosmusic.com/recording/brahms-hungarian-dances).

Only a few of the dances were actually written by Brahms, the remainder being a mixture of contemporary Hungarian Roma compositions, some of which were probably settings of traditional tunes. Höpcker’s playing of these technically demanding pieces has everything you could possibly wish for: stunning technique; faultless intonation; great dynamics; passion; energy; style; and a tone that is brilliant in the upper register and deep and warm in the lower. Bidini knows the original piano settings well, and it shows.

There are some familiar old favourites here, but all are gems. There’s never a dull moment in an outstanding disc.

03 Jinjoo ChoThe Indianapolis Commissions 1982-2014 is a fascinating CD issued for the tenth Quadrennial International Violin Competition of Indianapolis (IVCI) in 2018, and presents all nine specially commissioned works written through the 2014 competition (Azica Records ACD-71321; naxosdirect.com/items/the-indianapolis-commissions-468596).

Violinist Jinjoo Cho, the Gold Prize Winner in the 2014 IVCI, is quite stunning in a wide range of pieces that include three – by Joan Tower, Leon Kirchner and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich – for solo violin. Pianist Hyun Soo Kim supplies first-rate collaboration in works by Richard Danielpour, George Rochberg, Bright Sheng (the particularly dazzling A Night at the Chinese Opera), Joonas Kokkonen, Witold Lutosławski and Ned Rorem. One gets the impression that Cho could probably have won every one of the other eight competitions as well.

04 HaydnThere’s another 2CD volume available in the outstanding ongoing series of Haydn String Quartets by The London Haydn Quartet, this time the Six Quartets Op.64 from the London Forster edition (Hyperion CDA68221; hyperion-records.co.uk/dc.asp?dc=D_CDA68221).

The previous six volumes over the past 11 years have garnered rave reviews, and rightly so. These are period instrument performances simply bursting with life and energy, and with faultless intonation on gut strings – no easy feat. Hyperion’s two-CDs-for-the-price-of-one deal makes these terrific issues even more of a bargain.

05 Schubert Die Nacht track CD bklt 1Cellist Anja Lechner and guitarist Pablo Márquez team up on Die Nacht, a recital of works by Schubert and his contemporary Friedrich Burgmüller (ECM New Series 2555; ecmrecords.com/catalogue/1534923762).

A lovely performance of Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata is the centrepiece of the disc, surrounded by five Schubert songs interspersed with Burgmüller’s Trois Nocturnes for cello and guitar. Songs with guitar accompaniment were a strong tradition in 19th-century Vienna, many of Schubert’s being published in guitar versions. The songs here are Nacht und Träume D827, Fischerweise D881, Meeres Stille D216, Der Leiermann from Die Winterreise and the Romanze from Rosamunde, the last two in transcriptions by the artists. A rich cello sound and warm guitar tone add greatly to a simply lovely CD.

06 Sol GabettaSchumann is the latest CD from cellist Sol Gabetta and features three works for cello and piano with her long-time collaborator Bertrand Chamayou and the Cello Concerto in A Minor Op.129 with the Kammerorchester Basel under Giovanni Antonini (Sony Classical 88985352272; sonyclassical.de/sonyclassical_neu/CD/88985352272.html).

The works with piano are 5 Pieces in Folk Style Op.102, the Adagio and Allegro Op.70 (originally for horn and piano), and the Fantasiestücke Op.73 (originally for clarinet and piano), Schumann allowing that the latter two could be played “also on melody instrument.”

Gabetta has a deep strong tone but never lacks warmth and subtlety. She has performed with and known the members of the Basel orchestra for many years, and the comfort level is apparent in a warm and engaging performance.

07 BraumfelsI don’t recall receiving any CDs of the music of German composer Walter Braunfels (1882-1954) before, which made his Works for String Orchestra performed by the Münchner Rundfunkorchester under Ulf Schirmer all the more interesting (cpo 777 579-2; naxosdirect.com/items/braunfels-string-quintet-op.-63-sinfonia-concertante-op.-68-459907).

Both works here are relatively late compositions from the mid-1940s. The Quintet for String Orchestra Op.63a is a setting of Braunfels’ Op.63 String Quintet by his student, the conductor and musicologist Frithjof Haas. It’s a fine work with a particularly lovely Adagio movement, although one gets the feeling that some of the intimacy of the original is lost in the bigger sound.

The Sinfonia Concertante Op.68 for Violin, Viola, 2 Horns and String Orchestra is a shorter but more substantial and impressive work. Described in the notes as “more modern and radical” it is decidedly in the German Romantic tradition with a strong post-Mahlerian and Straussian feel to it, the prominence of the solo violin in particular giving the work more the feel of a concerto.

The excellent recordings were made in 2007 and 2009, presumably for radio broadcast.

08 Great NecksThe Great Necks – original arrangements for three guitars is the excellent debut CD from the guitar trio of Scott Borg, Adam Levin and Matthew Rohde (thegreatnecks.com/shop).

Borg is the arranger for the first four offerings: Sibelius’ Finlandia, the three-fold heavy strumming making for a rather thick texture; four unrelated individual movements by J. S. Bach; Villa-Lobos’ Chóros No.5 “alma brasileira”; and Albeniz’s Asturias. Rohde joins him in transcribing four brief preludes from Scriabin’s Op.11 keyboard set, but is solely responsible for, by far the most effective track on the disc, an engrossing arrangement of the hypnotic Danzón No.2 by Arturo Márquez.

Recorded in Toronto and engineered by the always reliable guitarist Drew Henderson, the sound is clear and resonant.

09 Czech StringsThe Orchestre d’Auvergne under Roberto Fores Veses performs string works by Dvořák, Janáček and Martinů on a new CD described as “a testimony to the Czech musical soul over a period of more than a century.” (Aparté AP 195D; apartemusic.com/discography/dvorak-janacek-martinu).

Dvořák’s Serenade in E Major Op.22 from 1875 is heard here in its complete version, the composer’s cuts and corrections from 1879 reinstated. Janáček’s Suite for String Orchestra was written in 1877, a year in which the composer spent the summer walking in Bohemia with Dvořák. The latter’s influence is apparent in a delightful work. Martinů’s String Sextet dates from 1932, and is heard here in the string orchestra arrangement made by the composer in 1951.

Performances full of warmth of works that all came from happy periods in the composers’ lives make for a highly satisfying disc.

10 WeinbergTwo rarely performed works by the Polish/Russian composer Mieczysław Weinberg are presented on Weinberg – Concertino, 24 Preludes, with the Russian cellist Marina Tarasova and the Music Viva Chamber Orchestra under Alexander Rudin in the Northern Flowers St. Petersburg Musical Archive series (NF/PMA 99131; altocd.com/northernflowers/nfpma99131/).

The Concertino for Violoncello and String Orchestra Op.43 was written in 1948; never played, it became the basis for the Cello Concerto with the same opus number, and was not discovered until 2016. It’s a lovely if brief work – the four movements are each under five minutes long – with a strong Jewish klezmer influence and more than a hint of Weinberg’s close friend Shostakovich. This is its premiere studio recording.

Weinberg’s 24 Preludes for Cello Solo were written for Rostropovich in 1960 but never performed by him. In 1979 the composer presented the score, inscribed with his compliments, to the young Marina Tarasova, although again they remained unplayed for nearly four decades. Wide-ranging in style and quoting from Schumann, Mozart and Shostakovich as well as his own works and popular song, they draw outstanding playing from Tarasova.

11 LanggaardThe Danish composer Rued Langgaard never gained acceptance in his home country during his lifetime, his rejection of his contemporary Carl Nielsen’s modernist path assuring him of a life in the musical backwaters. The last 50 years, however, have seen a reassessment and major change of opinion.

Complete Works for Violin and Piano Vol.2 is the second of three planned CDs of Langgaard’s compositions in the genre, with outstanding performances by violinist Gunvor Sihm and pianist Berit Johansen Tange (Dacapo 8.226131; naxosdirect.com/items/langgaard-complete-works-for-violin-piano-vol.-2-469744). Sihm is a member of the Nightingale String Quartet, which released an outstanding 3CD set of Langgaard’s complete string quartets between 2012 and 2015.

The Sonata No.1 “Viole” is a large work from 1915, the first and third movements being thoroughly revised by the composer in 1945. It’s a sweeping, passionate work, its changing moods brilliantly captured by the performers. The Andante Religioso, Langgaard’s final work for violin and piano following a burst of activity in the genre in the late 1940s, is a short work from 1950.

The final work here, the Søndagssonate (Sunday Sonata) for violin, piano, organ and orchestra is accurately described in the notes as “bizarre and unpredictable.” It was originally three separate compositions: the Sunday Sonata for violin and piano (movements 1 and 2); the Marble Church Prelude for organ (movement 3); and the Small Grand Symphony for orchestra with organ (movement 4 – and small indeed, at 2’47”). Organist Per Salo and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra under Thomas Søndergård are the additional performers in a world premiere recording of a unique work not heard until 2016.

12 Ries 3Violinist Eric Grossman and pianist Susan Kagan are the performers in the third volume of Ferdinand Ries Sonatas for Violin and Piano (Naxos 8.573862; naxosdirect.com/items/ries-sonatas-for-violin-piano-vol.-3-466993).

Ries was an exact contemporary and close friend of Beethoven, both composers having studied with Ries’ father Franz. The three sonatas here – in E-flat Major Op.18 from 1810, in G Minor Op.38 No.3 from 1811 and D Major Op.83 from 1818 – are clearly a continuation of the Viennese style developed by Mozart, but are closer to Beethoven in sound. They are delightful and charming works though, and the performances, balance and recorded sound here are all first class. 

13 Murasaki DuoWorks for Cello and Piano Book 1 is a CD of music by the American composer Maria Newman with the Murasaki Duo of cellist Eric Kutz and pianist Miko Kominami (Montgomery Arts House Press MAHMR 1205209; store.cdbaby.com/cd/marianewmanandwendyproberandpi).

The two excellent three-movement works, Peccavi Duo and Tri Follis were commissioned for these performers, but the real gem here is Othmar, An Eccentric Tone Poem for Violoncello Alone based on characters by the 19th-century English author and suffragette Mary De Morgan, whose fairy-tale stories often featured women noted for their personal – as opposed to physical – qualities. Kutz is simply outstanding in a quite dazzling and virtuosic work. 

01 KuulaAdam Johnson introduces a lesser known Finnish composer in his new recording Kuula – Complete Works for Solo Piano (Grand Piano GP 780; naxosdirect.com/items/kuula-complete-works-for-solo-piano-467079). Toivo Kuula (1883-1918) was a conductor and composer who studied in a number of European centres and spent some time as a composition student of Sibelius. His piano works represent only a modest portion of his oeuvre which includes more than 50 works plus a few posthumous items.

Kuula was a self-taught pianist whose earliest compositions date from 1900. While he never achieved virtuosic stature with the instrument, his eloquent writing suggests that he understood it profoundly. Johnson’s playing immediately captures the stylistic brew of Kuula’s late Romantic and early modern influences. His technique is fluid and confident and suits this music perfectly.

The disc’s program includes Two Song Transcriptions Op.37 which are especially beautiful and whose distinctive character easily sets them apart from the piano pieces. Johnson has done a wonderful job of drawing attention to a worthwhile creative voice not often heard.

02 Musica BrasilieraLuiz Carlos De Moura Castro’s new disc Musica Brasileira II (store.cdbaby.com/cd/luizdemouracastro10) is a collection of three substantial works: one by José Antônio Almeida Prado and the others by Villa-Lobos.

Prado’s Sonata No.5 “Omulu” is part of his cycle of Afro-Brazilian compositions. It’s a wild conception of ideas, dense, colourful and highly energized. The architecture is formal but the spirit of the piece is raw and untamed. De Moura Castro performs it with astonishing force and insight in an impressive combination of wild abandon and discipline. The composer dedicated the work to him and he premiered it in 1986 in Switzerland.

Villa-Lobos dedicated Rudepoema to Arthur Rubinstein. It’s a huge work of nearly half an hour and reflects, in an extended fantasy format, the composer’s deep affection for and artistic admiration of Rubinstein’s playing.

The other Villa-Lobos work is the fantasy for piano and orchestra Momo Precoce. This track was recorded live at a March 1985 performance and carries the acoustic colour of its period’s recording technology. It too is a lengthy piece, with some programmatic content depicting a Brazilian children’s carnival. Despite its vintage, the performance is first rate and completely engaging.

03 LisztomaniaMikolaj Warszynski is an accomplished performer and teacher. His latest recording Liszt-O-Mania (University of Alberta - Wirth Institute for Austrian and Central European Studies WIR07/2018; mikolajwarszynski.net/lisztomania) is a well-chosen program of favourites by Liszt, and therefore, an easy program to sell but a tough one to perform. As an academic, Warszynski brings his love of history and research to his liner notes. They are concise, captivating and inspiring. Moreover, they create the right expectation for his performances.

Warszynski sees Liszt as a spiritual explorer rather than solely a wild keyboard demigod. He expresses this by creating greater distances between moments of ferocity and moments of repose. This contrast is powerful, spellbinding and reflects a mature understanding of the composer’s intentions. Ballade No.2 in B Minor is a fine example of this device but the bonus track, Sonetto del Petrarca 123 is the most memorable, because of its artful application.

Lisztomania is less manic than its title might suggest, and it offers far more than a recital of “favourites” can usually manage. There’s some arrestingly beautiful playing on this disc.

04 Peter SchaafPeter Schaaf has released a third recording following his return to the keyboard after a lengthy hiatus pursuing other creative ventures. Chopin: 17 Waltzes (Schaaf Records SR 103; schaafrecords.com) is a collection of waltzes divided between those published during Chopin’s lifetime and those published posthumously.

Schaaf’s approach is relaxed and the tempos reflect this, often being a touch slower than is commonly heard. His playing is wonderfully clear and articulate. The all-important ornaments that give Chopin’s writing its identifying signature are unerringly executed with impressive consistency. Waltzes Op.34, No.3 and Op.69, No.2 are terrific examples of this splendid technique. Schaaf also brings a welcome degree of introspection to this music that is especially poignant in the minor keys. He creates a feeling of heightened mystery that, combined with a slower tempo, make pieces like the Waltz in C Sharp Minor Op.64 No.2 an entirely new experience.

05 Shoshana TelnerShoshana Telner’s latest release is a 2CD set titled Johann Sebastian Bach – The Six Partitas BWV825-830 (Centaur CRC 3642/3643; centaurrecords.com). The joy of playing or hearing Bach lies in the search for melody. Regardless of how familiar a work may be, chances are that a hidden fragment of melody will reveal itself, making the already beautiful impossibly better. This is how Telner plays. From her first phrase she declares her intention to mine every treasured nugget in Bach’s motherlode of counterpoint. These French dance suites are replete with ideas great and small lying in every range of the keyboard voice. Telner’s technique unfolds each one carefully. The versatility of the nine-foot Fazioli she plays allows for rich dynamic contrasts and subtle touch variations to highlight each new idea she encounters, as if to coax them out of hiding. It’s a mindful, disciplined and loving way to handle this music and the result is a breadth of beauty difficult to describe.

06 Quattro ManiSteven Beck and Susan Grace are the second incarnation of the piano duo Quattro Mani. Their new recording Re-Structures (Bridge 9496; bridgerecords.com/products/9496) is a wonderfully programmed disc of contemporary works for two pianos plus a variety of other instruments.

Poul Ruders’ Cembal D’Amore for piano and harpsichord places the piano mostly on the left audio channel while the harpsichord occupies the centre and right of the audio spectrum. Not only is the stereo effect immediately engaging but the writing too grabs the attention with very clever keyboard combinations and colouristic effects.

György Kurtág’s Életút Lebenslauf Op.32 uses a normally tuned piano in combination with another tuned a quarter tone lower and also calls for a pair of basset horns.

The title track Re-Structures by Tod Machover is written for two pianos and live electronics. It’s dedicated to Pierre Boulez for his 90th birthday and is inspired by Boulez’s own works for two pianos Structures.

The opening and closing tracks are for the duo alone. The final one is particularly intriguing for its relentless adherence to a Latin beat. Ofer Ben-Amots’ Tango for the Road provides a memorable finish to this excellent production.

07 David McGroryDavid McGrory’s new release Remember the Fallen (store.cdbaby.com/cd/davidmcgrory2) marked the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War, 1914-1918. He’s chosen three works to represent the responses of composers affected by the conflict.

Le Tombeau de Couperin is Maurice Ravel’s memorial to people he knew who had lost their lives in military service. Each of the work’s movements is dedicated to them. It’s not a directly programmatic piece and doesn’t set out to capture the mood of the period. It’s simply a contemporary expression inspired by Couperin’s 17th-century keyboard suites. McGrory has an impressive facility with the speed Ravel requires to execute the Prelude, Rigaudon and Toccata but he makes his greatest impact with the very tender and heartfelt Minuet. There’s a tremendous feeling of suspended melancholy that hangs over the entire movement. Gorgeous.

Frank Bridge’s Piano Sonata gives McGrory a similar opportunity. Its second movement is an extended calm between the work’s violent outer movements and his performance of it is profoundly moving.

Listen to 'Remember the Fallen' Now in the Listening Room

08 100 Years British MiniaturesDuncan Honeybourne performs an entire disc full of world premieres in his recent recording A Hundred Years of British Piano Miniatures (Grand Piano GP 789; naxosdirect.com/items/a-hundred-years-of-british-piano-miniatures-467080). Eleven composers’ works arranged chronologically give an illuminating view of the piano miniature’s evolution. English composers seem to have a deep and abiding affection for a sense of place, and they allow this to spark their creativity. Whether city streets or countryside, experiences had there are the prime resource for these miniatures.

The disc is full of these very short tracks, beautifully selected for their contribution to the program and historical relevance. Those from the first half of the last century seem to share a common language despite the great upheavals that changed the world in which they were conceived. The more contemporary ones are somewhat less tied to the charm of a place and are more outward-looking in concept. There is a remarkable degree of originality throughout all these works that makes this disc an engaging listen from start to finish.

09 Lorenzo MaterazzoLorenzo Materazzo takes a freely modern approach in his newest recording of Baroque repertoire Lorenzo Materazzo Plays Scarlatti & Bach (Austrian Gramophone AG 0010; naxosdirect.com/search/lorenzo+materazzo). He’s an active performer, composer and musicologist bringing a thorough rationale to his performance decisions. Materazzo extracts the greatest amount of emotional content possible from every phrase and thematic idea. His tempos are unconstrained by conventional practice and his dynamics are unashamedly romantic. He argues that both composers would have spoken this musical language had they lived today and points to the way his interpretation realizes more fully the potential of each work.

Scarlatti’s familiar Sonata in E Major K.380 proves an instructive comparison with almost any other version. Like all the other tracks, it’s an intimate recording with the mics very near the strings. Materazzo’s effort is persuasive, credible and very much worth hearing.

10 FiserZuzana Šimurdová introduces the music of a hitherto unrecorded composer in her new world premiere recording release Fišer – Complete Piano Sonatas (Grand Piano GP 770; naxosdirect.com/items/fišer-complete-piano-sonatas-417996). Luboš Fišer was a 20th-century Czech composer whose works are becoming better known through their publication by Barenreiter. His eight piano sonatas span the period from 1955 to 1995. He discarded the second sonata of which he was highly critical and the work was never recovered. Sonatas No.1 and No.3 are in three and two movements respectively while all the rest are single movements only.

Šimurdová is a powerful performer completely capable of the turmoil that is central to Fišer’s writing. Her ability to retreat into more tender moments of his music is what makes it truly human. Kudos to her for championing this voice.

11 Rubinstein Concerto 4Anna Shelest delivers a powerhouse performance in the new release Anton Rubinstein Piano Concerto No.4 (Sorel Classics SC CD 013 sorelmusic.org/Sorel/Recordings.html). She shares the stage at the Lincoln Center with The Orchestra Now (TON as they like to be called). This ensemble comprises specially chosen musicians from leading conservatories around the world. Their youthful approach breaks the mould of traditional orchestral players with their avid participation in pre-concert talks, onstage introductions and other forms of audience engagement.

The Rubinstein Concerto No.4 is gargantuan and Shelest is simply brilliant in her navigation of this iconic 19th-century Russian’s work. She captures the rich beauty of all Rubinstein’s melodies, both broad orchestral statements and intimate piano utterances. Conductor Neeme Järvi brings his extraordinary skill to the podium to direct the energies released by the music.

The CD also includes Rubenstein’s Caprice Russe Op.102 whose strong national folk content stands in contrast to the more European flavour of the concerto. It’s a thrilling live recording. 

01 17171717 – Memories of a Journey to Italy
Scaramuccia
Snakewood Editions SCD201801 (snakewoodeditions.com)

Imagine a journey to Florence, Rome and Venice. In 1717. Imagine, too, that you could take home with you your choice of manuscripts by composers based in those cities. This was the opportunity granted to Johann Georg Pisendel, in his own journey to Italy that same year. As if being allowed to take home manuscripts of contemporary Italian composers was not enough, Pisendel joined with some of them in composing. These joint efforts make up two tracks on this highly imaginative CD – there are even two CD world premieres.

Scaramuccia itself comprises just violinist, cellist and harpsichordist. From the start, a vigorous performance of the first Allegro from Tomaso Albinoni’s Sonata for violin and continuo proves this is no handicap. Scaramuccia’s detailed notes are more than helpful in finding out how Pisendel fared.

In the case of the Sonata for violin and continuo in D Major by Giuseppe Maria Fanfani, which here receives its world premiere, one wonders why this is so. Javier Lupiáñez’s enthusiastic violin playing in the Largo, Allegro and Tempo Giusto is first class. Giuseppe Valentini’s Sonata for violin and continuo in A Major starts imposingly before a really fervent Allegro, Minuet and Giga – at last, someone has discovered that a giga does not have to last less than two minutes! And then two pieces by Antonio Maria Montanari, the second in cooperation with Pisendel. Both opening Largos give us the chance to appreciate sensitive harpsichord playing and, once again, the passionate playing of Lupiáñez (Scaramuccia’s musicologist founder) in both Allegro movements.

This imaginatively created CD ends with its best-known composer working with Pisendel: the result a Sonata for violin and continuo which reminds us of everything that Vivaldi could create.

Listen to '1717 – Memories of a Journey to Italy' Now in the Listening Room

02 Forgotten OboeForgotten chamber works with oboe from the Court of Prussia
Christopher Palameta; Notturna
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 19075821552 (naxosdirect.com) 

The Montreal-born, Paris-based musician Christopher Palameta is widely fêted for oboe performances that are suffused with equal amounts of aesthetic beauty and historical rigour. Working since 2007 to broaden world understanding and appreciation for the music of German Baroque composer Johann Gottlieb Janitsch, Palameta has mined Janitsch’s repertoire, finding rarely heard chamber pieces that are now welcome additions to the canon of Baroque works. Collaborating on record here with the chamber music collective Notturna – which Palameta directs – Janitsch’s music, along with selections by Johann Gottlieb Graun and the little-known Christian Gottfried Krause, are captured beautifully on this 2018 release. The recording is certain to expand Palameta’s reputation as a singular musician dedicated to 18th- and 19th-century period piece work that showcases the oboe, and should be greeted enthusiastically by fans of early music.

Although music from this era could certainly be opulent and regal – the decorative ornamentations of the melodic line mirroring the exaggerated royal lifestyle, dress and mannerisms –Janitsch plumbs a galant style that fetishizes authenticity and aims for a return to more simple music-making practices. In fact, blurring the lines between the professional and amateur, Janitsch led community-wide sessions for musicians at a variety of levels to perform together called “Freitagsakademien” (Friday academies).

Like many composers of the Baroque era, Janitsch was indentured to royalty (in this case Frederick the Great, King of Prussia) and while his compositional style reflected the changing aesthetics of this time period, his considerable output was well supported by Frederick’s strong patronage of the arts and music. Thanks to Palameta, Jan Van den Borre, Catherine Martin, Emily Robinson and Brice Sailly, this important and underrepresented music lives on for future audiences.

03 KruesserKreüsser – 6 Quintettos Opus 10
Infusion Baroque
Leaf Music LM223 (leaf-music.ca/product/lm223/))

Thanks to the Montreal-based ensemble Infusion Baroque, Georg Anton Kreüsser (1746-1810) joins the list of composers whose works were lost to us until diligent research brought them to light. Kreüsser himself did not deserve to be lost – his music flourished in Mainz while he was konzertmeister of its Kapelle. His musical education took in Bologna and Amsterdam and it was there that he met Wolfgang, Leopold and Marianne Mozart – and the admiration was mutual as Leopold noted, which makes Kreüsser’s disappearance even more surprising.

The Quintettos feature flute and the four instruments of a traditional string quartet, a rare combination as most similar works follow the flute, violin, viola, cello model of Mozart’s flute quartets. It is Alexa Raine-Wright’s flute-playing that dominates this CD: listen in particular to the Tempo di menuetto of the Quintetto in C Major and the lively Allegro moderato of the G Major. Strings do, for all that, enjoy considerable prominence. For example, the violin and viola playing of the Allegro moderato and Allegretto in D major are highly enjoyable.

Overall, the Quintetto in G Major is the most spirited of the six on the CD, whichever instrument is being played. For intensity and gravitas, however, the Adagietto of the E-flat Major is highly worthy of the music of this period. All in all, a spirited and successful attempt to restore Kreüsser to the ranks of 18th-century composers of note.

Péchés – Rossini Salons & Horn Virtuosi
Alessandro Denabian; Lucia Cirillo; Francesca Bacchetta
Passacaille 1039 (naxosdirect.com)

Luigi Legnani – Rossini Variations
Marcello Fantoni (guitar)
Naxos 8.573721 (naxos.com)

04a Rossini PechesIf you were an educated music-loving dilettante living in Italy during the early 19th century, musical evenings might well have been a primary source of entertainment. And if you happened to know a horn player, a soprano and someone adept at the keyboard, the pieces on the delightful new disc titled Péchés d’Opéra on the Passacaille label might well have been the type you would have chosen for an evening’s program. It features natural horn player Alessandro Denabian, pianist Francesca Bacchetta (performing on an 1823 fortepiano) and mezzo-soprano Lucia Cirillo in an engaging program of duets and trios. Sins of Old Age was the name Rossini gave to numerous compositions for small ensembles he created long after he ceased writing operas. The charming and lyrical Prelude, Theme and Variations for horn and piano is one of them, which not surprisingly, has a very vocal quality about it. Denabian handles the virtuosic melodies with apparent ease, no mean feat on a natural (i.e. valveless) instrument. Less well-known composers include Antoine Clapisson and Frederic Duvernoy whose duets are performed with a particular bravado with Bacchetta providing a stylish and solid accompaniment. The group expands to include a soprano soloist in pieces such as Fuis, laisse-moi by Donizetti and the most familiar piece on the disc, Una furtiva lagrima from his opera L’elisir d’amore. Cirillo delivers a solid performance with well-balanced phrasing, subtly nuanced. My only quibble is that at times her voice tends to overshadow the other musicians, but in no way does this mar an otherwise fine performance.

04b Legnani RossiniRemaining in the land of olive trees, a Naxos recording titled Rossini Variations presents music by Luigi Legnani, whose name is undoubtedly forgotten today. Nevertheless, during his lifetime, Legnani – an almost exact contemporary of Rossini – was famous as a virtuoso guitarist, composer and instrument maker. The disc features guitar transcriptions and variations on music from Rossini operas performed by guitarist Marcello Fantoni. To reduce full-scale orchestral works for a solo guitar would take considerable skill. Nevertheless, the enjoyment of this disc is twofold – not only are the compositions finely crafted, but they are also well performed. In Fantoni’s competent hands, the guitar becomes a complex and expressive instrument, whether in the familiar overture to William Tell or the more obscure Variations on O quanto lagrime from La Donna del lago. While he possesses a formidable technique, his performance is never mere virtuosity; rather, he lets the music speak for itself.

Two fine discs with music from sunny Italy to cast away the winter darkness – both recommended.

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